Have you ever been accused of being “privileged?” Of having “unearned privilege?”
Have you ever had that feeling that out of virtually nowhere, people are labeling you, boxing you into a corner, suddenly putting the screws on you to somehow repent for this “unearned privilege” that has been attributed to you?
Have you ever felt, moreover, that no matter how you respond, no matter what you say and how good your intentions are, people assume the worst? Like everything you say and do is possibly offensive?
Do you ever feel like your success in life is talked about as being due to your unearned privilege, rather than the result of your own effort and hard work?
All these things have happened to me many times. They’ve probably happened to you, too. And when you’re able to make sense of what is being said, you can listen and reach an understanding with the person saying it.
But what happens when you can’t make sense of it? What happens when people attribute privilege to you and you can’t fully get what they mean, or why they are criticizing you? When you feel hurt, or guilt, or anger, or resentment? What do you do then? Sure, you can Google a bunch of things and learn about privilege and oppression, but often this doesn’t fully answer the disorientation you feel inside yourself – does it?
Sometimes, if you attempt to talk about your feelings, you may then get told that it is belittling / bigoted / oppressive to “make it all about you” when people who don’t have these privileges face much sharper problems than just “feelings.” Shifting the conversation to your hurt feelings prioritizes those feelings over the lived experiences of those who are oppressed, it is often said.
I certainly don’t ever want to erase or cover up the feelings and lived experiences of people who suffer oppressions – but as a very privileged person myself, I recognize the need for spaces for these feelings to be heard and understood. After all, it certainly doesn’t feel like a privilege to be faced with ugly truths and realities you weren’t previously aware of.
Of course feelings don’t substitute for reality. But feelings make up part of the reality – including the feelings of the privileged. And when people with unearned privileges are challenged around those privileges, they may feel disoriented and even threatened.
I feel it is up to me, as a person of many unearned privileges, who knows intimately what this disorientation feels like, to make a space to talk about it. I’ll be writing a series of posts on this blog about this subject and linking the posts together. Stay tuned and feel free to leave comments!